KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 5 — Budget airline AirAsia has come under fire again, this time over the cancellation of its Indonesia long-haul affiliate’s inaugural flight from Melbourne to Bali last December.
The Australian daily reported that the country’s local regulators are considering Indonesia AirAsia X, the long-haul affiliate of Malaysia’s AirAsia X Bhd, for possible “misleading and deceptive conduct” for selling tickets before gaining approval from Australian regulators to fly into Australia.
Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) chairman Rod Sims reportedly said the regulator had received a letter from consumer rights group, CHOICE, after complaints began flooding in from consumers who alleged losses amounting to thousands of Australian dollars.
“We will consider this matter, not just in terms of the Choice letter but also any complaints we may have received directly,” Sims was quoted saying.
Indonesia AirAsia started taking bookings for its Bali to Melbourne route in October last year, after getting the permit to operate in Indonesia.
According to The Australian, Indonesia AirAsia X started selling tickets for flights between Melbourne and Bali for as low as A$99 (RM276) for flights from December 26 onwards.
However, the low-cost carrier sent text messages to passengers on Christmas day, informing them that the scheduled direct flights were cancelled as it had not secured regulatory approval from the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) to fly the route.
Following the cancellation, passengers — who had paid for a six-hour flight — were forced to travel to Bali via Kuala Lumpur, which had delayed their travel plans for more than 14 hours.
Those who were flying out of Melbourne after December 26 were also subjected to make new booking, said The Australian.
Quoting CHOICE’s media spokesman head of media Tom Godfrey, Daily Mail reported that under Australia’s consumer law passengers should be compensated by the airline for the additional expenses incurred.
“AirAsia sold one thing and delivered something different — and in the process it misled consumers,” said Godfrey to the UK based newspaper.
“If the route alteration had a major impact on holiday plans, where a holiday was the reason the flights were purchased, it constitutes a major failure under Australian Consumer Law.
“If the airline misled consumers or acted in a way that constitutes a "major failure" under consumer law, consumers should be able to seek compensation from the airline for any unexpected expenses they have had as a result of the cancellation,” he was quoted saying.
According to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), under Australian aviation laws, airlines are permitted to sell tickets before gaining all relevant approvals but the airlines are required to inform their customers that the flights are subjected to regulatory approval.
The New York-based daily added that one of the reasons for the delay in obtaining the approval for Indonesia AirAsia X’s launch in Melbourne, is the crash of its subsidiary’s Flight QZ8501 — which plunged into the Java Sea on December 28 killing all 162 passengers on board.
Quoting sources familiar with the regulatory process, WSJ said that Australian aviation regulators need time to reevaluate the airline’s safety operations.
Last month, Indonesia AirAsia X said that it is working closely with the relevant authorities to complete the administration process and hopes to start its daily flights from Bali to Melbourne soon.
In 2012, Malaysia AirAsia was fined for contravening the single pricing provision under the Australian consumer law after CHOICE had complained that the airline's website, www.airasia.com, had not published some airfare prices inclusive of all taxes, duties, fees and other mandatory charges “in a prominent way and as a single figure”.
Australia’s Federal Court had then fined the budget carrier A$200,000 (RM555,536).